Surrounded by the most well-known Democratic leaders in Cincinnati, former governor Ted Strickland tried to re-energize his struggling U.S. Senate bid by stumping in his opponent’s hometown on Thursday morning.
The press conference at Smale Riverfront Park brought out Mayor John Cranley, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, and even former mayor Mark Mallory, who said it was his first media event since 2013.
Yet it was Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld who drew the most attention when he took the podium, and said he was a “strong and proud supporter of governor Strickland and his candidacy.”
The popular city councilman ran a passionate campaign against Strickland but lost badly in the statewide March Democratic primary.
“The fundamental question in politics is whose side are you on,” Sittenfeld said. “Ted Strickland, now and for his entire career, has been on the side of Ohioans, on the side of working people. There is a real contrast between him and Rob Portman. “
It didn’t take long for the Portman campaign to pounce on Sittenfeld’s praise for his former political rival.
Minutes after the press conference ended, the Portman campaign began tweeting old criticisms of Strickland, made by Ohio Democrats during the heated primary contest, including this from Sittenfeld: “Ted Strickland has been wrong at every step of his career.”
— Rob Portman (@robportman) September 8, 2016
Portman, the GOP senator from Terrace Park, is running for his second term. He has consistently beat Strickland in every poll since July, and now has a 7.5 point lead, according to a poll average by RealClearPolitics.
Recently the Strickland campaign was dealt another blow when Senate Democrats and the Senate Majority super PAC unexpectedly cut millions of dollars in ads reserved for him in the coming weeks.
But Pepper said he isn’t giving up on the national Democratic money for Strickland just yet.
“They want to see some movement, and they will see some movement,” Pepper said. “He’s up on TV now and in the next 60 days you will see an enormous ground game.”
When asked if Sittenfeld – who is popular in Cincinnati but lacked statewide recognition – would be faring better against Portman in the general election campaign right now, Pepper quickly said no.
“The only Democrat in Ohio at this point who would be within single digits (of Portman) after $43 million in ads spent against them is Ted Strickland,” Pepper said.
According to a tally by Democrats, Portman and GOP-backing outside groups have spent over $45 million against Strickland. This is more Republican spending against any Democratic candidate in the nation, including Hillary Clinton, according to The Atlantic.
In the coming weeks, Ohio Democrats and the Strickland campaign will be working hard to fight the image portrayed in television attack ads of the former governor losing jobs and spending the state’s rainy day fund during the recession.
Cincinnati leaders praised Strickland’s help in creating The Banks project eight years ago and not cutting local government funding during the recession.
“Even during the recession Governor Strickland knew that building Ohio meant building public spaces like this beautiful park,” Cranley said. “Even in the midst of the recession … Governor Strickland helped local governments and didn’t slash them.”
Cranley blamed Gov. John Kasich for the drastic local government cuts that reduced firefighters and police statewide.
Afterward, Portman campaign spokesman Michawn Rich criticized the Strickland governorship for causing Ohio to lose more than 350,000 jobs.
"While Ted Strickland and his allies have a different excuse every day, the fact is campaign organizations are reflections of candidates, their records, and their successes or failures,” Rich said in a prepared statement. “After spending $20 million attempting to cover up his record, even Democrats are resigned to the fact that Ted has the worst record of any Senate candidate in America.”
Continuing on his campaign tour of the region, Strickland will meet with University of Cincinnati College Democrats at 5:15 p.m. to talk about making higher education more affordable.